Remember this picture? It’s a picture of a young woman in a long flowing dress. No matter what way you look at it, the picture is of a young woman. Someone else says the picture is of an old woman’s face. You can’t see it. No matter how hard you try, you cannot, for the life of you, figure out how someone is seeing a picture of an old woman when it is clearly a young woman in a dress! Then they point out the chin, then the nose, then her scarf. Ah ha! Now you see it! When you look at it that way, now you can see the old woman’s face, right there in the same place you saw a young woman just seconds ago.
In therapy, this is what we call a paradigm shift. Our paradigm is what we see from our perspective (what we believe is true). A paradigm shift is when something has happened and suddenly we see things from a completely different angle. We are astounded that what we couldn’t see just minutes before is now there! It has, in fact, been there all along and we just couldn’t see it – much like the picture of the old woman’s face.
In marriage, we spend a lot of time together with our partners. It is easy to become focused on the negatives: “If only I had my freedom.” “If only she would lose weight.” “If he just wasn’t so angry (or critical) (or controlling).” “She just isn’t a very sexual person.” “He’s just not very emotional or romantic.” “I need to divorce her to find happiness.” The list goes on, but the point is that we come to focus on these beliefs (true or not true) and we fail to consider that there might be more there that we are just currently unable to see! We are blinded by our paradigm (belief) that our partner is not right for us and that we need to get away from them.
I have seen dozens of examples of people in relationships where this type of thinking was cemented in place. They were convinced that it was the truth and nothing could change it. When the moment comes, however, that they are sitting in their house looking at the empty spaces their spouse and sometimes the whole family once occupied, or the staring at the dingy, cold walls of a hotel room, suddenly what we saw before looks much different!
Few people are able to be convinced by words alone that what they are really looking at is different from what they see. The most common example of this that I see is that we believe our partner doesn’t really love us, that instead, on some level, they are out to hurt us. What I see when I look at two people who once loved each other deeply now
What I see when I see two people intent on hurting each other is really two people who are hurting very deeply and desperately want to be loved. Ask yourself, “Do I really believe that my partner doesn’t care about my needs?” “Do I genuinely think that they said that just to make me feel like a loser?” “Do I honestly believe that my partner did what he/she did just to hurt me?” If you answer yes to any of these, you probably need some work with a therapist to help you see the other side of this coin. In my years of counseling, I have yet to see someone who honestly wants to hurt another person. They may be hurting you, but that is out of their primitive way of communicating their hurt, not out of intention to hurt you.
When problems arise in a relationship, it is important to recognize that your view may not actually be the view. If you are convinced that your partner is the problem, I invite you to (as the wonderful Dr. Harville Hendrix puts it so succinctly), put down the magnifying glass and pick up the mirror. You might be amazed at what you are suddenly able to see . . .